Page 26 of Don't Look Back

I wasn’t ready to look at this as a glass half full. “And what about Cassie? I don’t think she’ll get to have any do-overs.”

He dropped his hands, eyes downcast. “That’s the hardest part to swallow.”

We left before Cassie’s grandfather could throw us out. I didn’t want to go home yet, so Carson suggested a late lunch. He parked the bike across from a cemetery that was about the same size as the town. Tourists were everywhere, taking pictures of the old orphanage and the back of the Jennie Wade House, the home of the only civilian killed during the Battle of Gettysburg. As I followed Carson into a pub next to the orphanage, I almost wanted to join the tourists.

I felt like them, except I just happened to be sightseeing my own life.

Carson picked a booth in the back and handed me a menu. There was a curious look on his face as he watched me.

“What?” I asked.

He gave a slight shake of his head. “If someone had said a month ago that I’d be eating lunch with you, I would’ve told them to get off the crack.”

I laughed, turning my attention to the menu. “I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing.”

“Neither, I guess. What I mean is that you never would’ve gone out with me like this.”

“But we were best friends.”

“When we were little,” he said, tapping his fingers on the edge of the table. “We haven’t been civil toward each other for years.”

My cheeks heated as I remembered the things I’d learned that I had said to him. “I was such a bitch.”

“You had your moments,” he said lightly.

I peeked up at him through my lashes. “You know what I don’t get? Why you’re so nice to me now when I was such a jerk to you.”

The low-hanging ceiling lamp glinted in his bright eyes. “Like I said, you had your moments.”

“Good ones?”

He shrugged, and I didn’t think I was going to get anything else out of him. Maybe I hadn’t had any good moments, but then he let out a low breath. “When you weren’t with Cassie and Mars was aligned with Jupiter, you could be like you used to be.”

A faint smile pulled at my lips. “Wow. All that for me to be nice?”

Carson’s grin was fast. Several seconds went by. “When my mom…when she passed away two years ago, you came to the funeral. Scott was there. Of course he was, but I didn’t expect to see you there. Your father came, too, but you weren’t with him or your brother. Afterward, when I was at home, you surprised me again.”

“I did?” I whispered, watching him.

He nodded slowly. “There were a lot of people at our house. Mom had a lot of friends. She loved you, by the way.” One side of his lips tipped up again as his gaze settled on the menu. “You visited her, you know? When hospice came in and when I wasn’t home, you visited her. I don’t think you wanted me to know that you did, so I never brought it up, but I know my mom appreciated that and I…I did, too. Anyway, after the funeral, I needed to get away to think.”

“You went to the tree house?” I asked, remembering what he’d said before.

“Yep,” he replied quietly. “I wasn’t in there for more than twenty minutes, and then you kind of came out of nowhere. Climbed up into that damn house. You didn’t say anything, but you sat down beside me and…”

“And what?” I felt as if I was hearing about someone else’s history, and I was fascinated.

He leaned back, running the palm of his hand over his jaw. “You just hugged me. You know, like, for a while. You never said anything and finally you left. We’ve never talked about it. Sometimes I wonder if it really happened.”

My heart tripped up, and relief eased some of the tense muscles in my shoulders. It was nice to hear that I had some redeemable moments. “I’m sorry about your mother, Carson.”

He nodded again. “Anyway, like I said, you had your moments.”

Realizing that was all I was going to get from him, I crossed my legs and looked at the menu again. “When this place was Spiritfield’s, it had the best crab cheese fries ever. Scott and I used to fight over them.”

Carson sucked in a sharp breath. “Sam?”

My mouth dropped open as I looked up. How had I known that? “I don’t know why I said that.”

He continued to stare at me, and pieces of what I’d said floated together in my brain. I could almost see us—my brother and me, much younger, sitting at a booth just like this, pulling apart a gooey mess of fries and cheese.

Excitement swept through me. I almost came out of my seat. “I remember eating here with Scott.”

“It hasn’t been called Spiritfield’s for years, Sam.”

I nodded eagerly, a wide smile pulling at my lips. “I don’t remember anything else, but that’s something right?”

“It’s something.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach those eyes of his.

Before I could question it, the waitress appeared to take our orders, and buzzing on having one clear, nondisturbing memory, I didn’t want to push my luck. For the first time in days, I felt as if I’d actually accomplished something. I threw myself into having lunch with Carson, laughing at his jokes and the stories he told me about when we were young, getting swept up in the crazy rush of feelings whenever our eyes would meet or our fingers would accidentally brush. I couldn’t stop smiling, and when it came time to get back on the bike, he didn’t need to pull my arms around him.

I did that without even thinking twice.

When we arrived at Carson’s house, I realized I was reluctant to climb off the bike and go back home. It was like living two lives—the one the old Sammy existed in and the one that was taking place right now. That feeling, as Carson slid off the bike and turned to me, was confusing as hell.

Wordlessly, he unbuckled my chin strap and gently pulled my helmet off. His eyes were hooded, hidden under thick lashes, and unreadable. I wanted to thank him for going along with me today, to tell him that I had fun in spite of why we’d made the trip to Cassie’s house, but any and all words died on my lips. There was a strange, powerful tension that crept over us, heady and warm, as he placed the helmet on the bike. I opened my mouth to say something again, but the strain built, stealing my breath, shocking me.

Carson placed his hands on my hips and easily lifted me off the bike, placing my feet on the ground, but he didn’t just let go. His hands remained tight on my hips. An unknown need sprang alive, one I didn’t fully understand. My skin felt tingly, hot. His steady breath teased the hair at my temple. My pulse jumped. What I was feeling was wrong. I knew that, because this should be happening with Del and not Carson. But what I was feeling was so startlingly real. Like a splash of vibrant color in a world that was a dark, drab gray.